Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Ryder Cup miracle working takes its toll on Olazabal

Jose Maria Olazabal woke up back in Europe yesterday – having snatched a first precious handful of sleep since Thursday night – and at last turned on his mobile phone. There were 101 messages waiting, one from the King of Spain, one from Rafael Nadal. They came from across the continent.

Who knows, there may be as yet unreceived laudation from all Europe's royal houses; after listening to a handful, Olazabal turned it off again. The acclaim that has flowed in his direction in recognition of the feat he oversaw during three ferociously fluctuating days across a green swathe of a Chicago suburb has come close to overwhelming this quiet man. It may be some time before he gets through the messages as, with his duties done, he plans to keep the phone off and retreat to his home alongside the Royal San Sebastian golf club in Hondarribia in the Basque region of Spain.



"I am going to go home, turn the phone off, turn the TV on and lie down," said Olazabal of his desire to reclaim the "normal life" he has always treasured.



The 46-year-old will forever be treasured in European golf after this astonishing success. It was the team's rookie, the Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, his croaky voice betraying the long celebrations of Sunday night, who put it into words yesterday.



"Jose Maria is a passionate man," said Colsaerts, sitting alongside his captain in a Heathrow hotel, in front of them the familiar gold Ryder Cup. "He has got an unbelievable size of heart. He made it clear to us that this was going to be special. Everybody understood the importance of this cup to this man's life. He showed it as a player when he went out with Seve [Ballesteros]. Everyone saw those two were very, very special."



What Olazabal is now is very, very tired. He had next to no sleep on Friday or Saturday night as he fretted over the on-course events. On Sunday there was a rather happier reason for staying awake.



"I am still riding the wave," he said, a shadow of stubble drawn across his face. "It has been an emotional week, a tough one to begin with but the outcome was wonderful. I am running on pure adrenalin. What they did was just extraordinary. Period. We have this wonderful trophy because of those 12 wonderful men."



Colsaerts described it as "12 great men together." It was on the Saturday evening that Olazabal found out what his doughty dozen were made of. "I asked every player what position he wanted to be in – front, middle or back," said Olazabal. "Nobody wanted to be at the back – that was a good sign. When we got the pairings I said to the players I liked what I saw. I saw balance – I saw big hitters against big hitters and consistent players against consistent players.



"I thought if we can make some key putts... the first two days we didn't make a putt – except Nicolas Colsaerts – the US team kept knocking putts in. If we managed to get a few putts, get a little bit of blue on the leaderboard..."



The next day he saw the board turn blue. "There was a moment, standing on the 12th tee and waiting for Lee [Westwood] I looked at the board and all five matches had already been won by Europe," said Olazabal. "I looked at the last few and we were going OK. Lee was all-square, he came on to the tee and asked how we were doing. I had done my maths and realised we had a chance of winning."



Not being able to swing a club was the hardest part of what was at times a tortuous experience. "It is a different kind of pressure," he said of the captaincy. "Once they are on the golf course there is nothing you can do. It is difficult, in a way it is torture. It is tough on your nerves but that's the beauty of the Ryder Cup – it's a huge adrenalin flow but that's what we live for, the atmosphere, the pressure, the tension."



His first Ryder Cup experience came in 1987 and it will remain a trophy he savours for the different demands it makes on players who usually only have themselves to consider. "That's the beauty of the Ryder Cup. What you see this week is all the walls erected individually to be in the comfort zone, to hide our emotions, all those elements are pushed aside – they show themselves, open their hearts and show their feelings. Afterwards they go back behind the wall again."



Olazabal will not take the lead at Gleneagles 2014, even if part of him would like to. "Yes in way but the answer is going to be a no," he said. "There are a lot of players who should be in my spot. Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke deserve a chance, and Thomas [Bjorn] and Paul [Lawrie]. Then there are guys like Lee and Padraig [Harrington] – there is a list of around eight or nine guys who can do it.



"It's a one-time chance. I had mine. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time and you have to be prepared for that. But at the end of the day it comes down to the result of the match. If you lose you look like you did a poor job. If you win it doesn't matter what you have done, you look like the best person in the world."

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